Since my last blog on “Law in the Time of Coronavirus”, social distancing has become the rule in the legal world. Now, virtually every law firm, including ours, is working remotely. Most court hearings, even telephonic hearings, have been postponed. Judges and court staff are working remotely. Jury trials in Arizona have been suspended until at least April 17th, and that date will undoubtedly be extended.
Pima County has restricted physical access to the courthouse except in the case of “essential hearings” for in-custody defendants in criminal cases. As for civil cases, only “essential” hearings will occur, such as injunctions and other emergency matters. This restriction is also effective through April 17th.
Much of what occurs in lawsuits happens outside the courtroom, such as depositions and mediations. We continue to conduct these proceedings but remotely. I recently successfully completed a settlement mediation entirely over my cell phone. I conferenced in my clients, and we all spoke to the mediator, who was also on his cell phone.
We are planning depositions to be conducted by Zoom, where no two people, even the court reporter, need be in the same room. We have conducted numerous meetings via Zoom or telephone. As of this writing, Matt Schmidt is planning a legal education program with the State Bar of Arizona to be conducted by Zoom.
Recently, lawyers representing defendants in medical malpractice cases wrote a letter to the Arizona Supreme Court urging that the Court order such cases be “stayed”—basically suspended—for 60 days during the pandemic. I spearheaded an effort by lawyers representing patients to requesting that the the Court resist a blanket stay.
Rather, we urged that lawyers and judges working together could decide what was best on a case-by-case basis. Certainly, in some cases, proceedings need to be delayed to accommodate heath care workers who are needed to treat COVID-19 patients. However, that may not be true in all cases and so an across the board stay would not be fair or appropriate.
The Supreme Court has not responded to either letter at this point, but as a practical matter, we continue to pursue our cases as is appropriate using technology to accomplish justice for our clients. We are therefore adapting to this most challenging situation.
We wish everyone the best of health and happiness.